What Do You Do There?

This is my first year as a staff member at Macomber Center, and many of my friends and family keep asking, “So, what exactly do you do there?” It’s an honest question, but describing to someone who is not familiar with alternative models of education what the Macomber Center is and what we do here is no easy task. It is a vibrant and dynamic place, and what we do here is different all the time. And, all the kids and grown-ups have their own unique perspective on what it’s like to be a part of this community. We read books, play video games, build things, make music, talk to each other, and lounge in the sun. Sometimes we talk about physics and the properties of light. Sometimes we share stories about gross leftovers in the fridge. Always, we are learning: about the world, about each other, about ourselves.

I am still young enough to say that more than half of my life was spent in school. I attended public school for the required 13 years and then went on to college for another 4. It wasn’t until I was out of school for good that I really began to learn about the world and find my place in it. As a self-employed wedding photographer, my work was seasonal and I was fortunate to have long stretches of unstructured time for reading and exploring my interests. This is when I first learned about what most excites me and what I’m good at. Many (if not most) people do not have such a luxury of time once they enter adulthood and begin working. “Exploring your interests” is something that you have to do outside of work hours, at which point there may be little time or energy left, just as there was little time or energy for doing so outside of school hours when you were a child. This is what is so important about Macomber Center. The children here have time and freedom to explore what interests them during a part of their lives when risks are small and responsibilities are few. When it is their turn to enter adulthood and begin working, my hope for them is that they know enough about themselves and their place in the world to choose a path that they find meaningful and fulfilling.

But what do we do here? My first week, we turned the front room into a camera obscura, which means that we made the room into a giant camera. Some kids said, “Oh, cool,” and promptly went back to what they were already doing. Others stayed inside for a while, curious about why the image was projected upside down and enjoying watching their friends’ movement from outside. A handful of kids were particularly interested in it, and the group of us had conversations about light and photography and art history and astronomy. I brought some old cameras for people to look at, and had fun describing what film is to kids who had never seen it before. A group of kids found an animal skull near the Center and ran in to ask James for help identifying it. Dan had his fingernails lovingly painted. Denise rounded up helpers to make applesauce for everyone to share. Some people learn Latin together, some play foursquare, some make music. We eat together, we talk. No one is the teacher; we all explore and learn together, side by side. It’s fun and magical.

What do we do here? Come and see.

“Children are notoriously curious about everything - everything except...the things people want them to know. It then remains for us to refrain from forcing any kind of knowledge upon them, and they will be curious about everything.” 

- Floyd Dell, Were You Ever a Child?